A film-obsessed American student studying in 1968 Paris is seduced by strangely close twins while their parents are away on holiday.
Young Matthew (Michael Pitt) arrives in Paris for a year of French study at the university. His heart, however, is not in his studies so much as in the Cinematheque Français where every night he and countless other cinephiles pack into the theater for the night's screening. When the director of the Cinematheque is fired, students hit the street in protest. It is in this crowd of film-loving students that Matthew first meets Theo (Louis Garrel) and his twin sister Isabelle (Eva Green). Theo and Isabelle invite Matthew over for dinner and then over to stay with them while their parents are away. As the rebellious fervor builds outside, Matthew, Theo, and Isabelle hole up in the apartment to drink, smoke, and talk movies. Venturing out occasionally at first, they successfully break the record in Godard's Bande à part for running through the Louvre. Everything is going along swimmingly for the three youths, until the situation is complicated when Matthew and Isabelle's relationship turns sexual. Theo and Michael subtly vie for Isabelle's attention until everything comes to a head as the streets of Paris fill with angry protesters.
Pitt, Garrel, and Green acquit themselves well in this languid portrayal of blossoming sexuality. Pitt especially stands out as he maneuvers between innocent awe, shock, and a youthful fearlessness that allows him to become a fully debauched member of the twins' household. The weight of the entire film rests on these three actors since it is, essentially, a chamber piece, set within the walls of Theo and Isabelle's apartment. Unfortunately, there is little for these people to really do besides have lovely nubile sex and loll about half dressed discussing politics and film. The strange relationship between Theo and Isabelle is well played by Garrel and Green, who capture the character's youthful confusion as well as their rebellious posturing. It's as if these characters are, at times, able to realize how far southeast of normal they have gone, while at the same time having no ability to do anything to steer their way back.
The Dreamers is a flimsily plotted, overheated film legitimized by its director, Bernardo Bertolucci. What in the hands of a lesser known or first time director might come across as a little too explicit to be a mainstream narrative film, becomes somehow purified by the presence of an auteur director. Sadly, this film, though set in a turbulent time of dramatic worldwide change, has little to say about the world beyond the twins' apartment. The Dreamers falls into this same category of Bertolucci's latest odes to sensuality for sensuality's sake like Stealing Beauty and Besieged, a lot of sound and fury with very little significance. Beyond the connection these people have based on their love of film, they appear to have nothing to draw them together except a lonely sort of desire for love and affection. Matthew's character does make the distinction between the intellectual movie buffs who drink wine, have sex, and march and those who throw bottles in protest, but this is too little too late. It is not a grand enough or interesting enough statement to make the film worthwhile. Make love not war has been said before and with more nuance and style.
Though it seems that Bertolucci is aiming for some kind of greater truth about 1968 Paris and the tenor of the times, the film comes off as a very slight reflection on a very specific and unusual encounter between an boy abroad and two odd siblings.